Lucy Baring: ‘It’s unnerving being taught life lessons by someone who’s just left school’

Adventures at the intersection of second-hand cars, Marie Kondo and William Morris.

When a friend came to stay recently, we inevitably discussed current working life, new student life and all the bad bits in between. ‘Another thing I hate,’ he says, ‘is when did “shielding” stop being a transitive verb?’ The thing that Zam and I dislike is how uncomfortably aware we are that neither of us can do up our trousers. Action needs to be taken, so I sign back up to my exercise class, remotely.

I sit the laptop on the laundry basket for the standing-up bits and shift it around until the teacher asks if she’s under my bed, which she is, for the lying-down bits. I try not to look at the dust, but concentrate on sticking my lower back to the floor as I lift my legs.

On Saturday, Zam wheels the bicycle out of the shed and sets off early. Not long afterwards, I receive a call: he’s had two punctures. We stuff the bike into the small car, boot akimbo, and totter home for toast and coffee. Not good for the waistband, but he’s making a loaf a day and someone has to eat it.

The house is unnervingly empty. Zam is preoccupied with the squirrel that eats the cobnuts, the rat that eats the pears and the badger that has eaten all the sweetcorn. I am not so preoccupied. Occupied. I decide to buy a new car.

I visit a couple of garages where I explain I want something small, cheap and reliable. Despite my having spent a morning hoovering detritus out of the Fiat Panda, the salesmen assessing it for part-exchange make low whistling noises before telling me that my alloys aren’t up to much.

I see one car in my price range, but when I call, it’s just been sold. The only other affordable Nissan Micra within 50 miles is in Worth-ing. The thought of going there twice suddenly becomes unbearable. Buying a car is beyond me.

Instead, I tackle the boxes that have been stored, unopened, for more than six years. I’m always hearing about people selling any old stuff on the internet, but although I’ve developed quite a bad Add to Cart habit (100 pairs of latex gloves and roasted peanuts on a tear-off barcard being cases in point), I’ve no idea how to send traffic the other way. I enlist the help of an 18 year old, who is efficient and entrepreneurial and is now pulling out my old clothes saying ‘chuck or charity shop?’

‘Um… eBay?’ She looks sympathetic, but doubtful, before tactfully alighting on a shirt that, if washed, she thinks she may be able to put on Depop.

I find a dog that you push when learning to walk and a wooden tray with bricks that serves the same purpose. I think I should keep these. ‘You don’t need both,’ the young person suggests. ‘Which one makes your heart sing?’

I realise I’ve enlisted Marie Kondo crossed with William Morris, which is sort of the point, but it’s unnerving being taught life lessons by someone who’s just left school. ‘Everyone needs a globe,’ I say firmly, putting a plastic one in the car boot.

We return to the shed, where she has been ruthlessly constructing a ‘chuck’ pile, then fit ourselves back into the Fiat, surrounded by old school photographs. The young person looks at me. I get out of the car again. ‘I don’t think I do need that globe, actually.’ This feels mature.

Later, I get a text with two proposed dump/charity shop slots. ‘What do you think?’

I think my stomach muscles hurt and I want to retrieve the globe. And she should find me a car.